What is a Multilingual website?
A multilingual website is any website whose content is displayed in more than one language. While ideally this would mean that all text content throughout the site is displayed in two or more languages, and that any audio-visual content is also available with subtitles in the other language(s), in practice it is common for more limited content to be displayed in languages other than the primary one representing the market where the business is based.
Do I need a Multilingual website?
It's important for anyone thinking of incorporating multilingual functionality into their business or organisational website to carefully assess the commercial value of translating each piece of content into the other languages to be featured. The home page, core service pages, product pages and contact pages should generally be prioritised over informative articles or blog postings. However, depending on the nature of the business or organisation, some articles and news posts may still be relevant and important.
Think also about the current and potential size of your market among speakers of other languages before you start to implement them across your site. Do you have the resources to sell to all you may attract, including the necessary export facilities and arrangements for goods being shipped overseas?
A multilingual website is a major commitment, and should be justified in terms of its value either to speakers of minority languages in your primary country of operation (where applicable) or to speakers of majority languages in foreign territories with which you plan to trade.
If you can justify the time and cost investment that goes into a multilingual website, then you should find that it brings numerous benefits to your business. We have picked out eight benefits of multilingual websites below.
Benefits of Multilingual Websites
1. Boosts Search Engine Visibility
Search engine visibility in response to searches is dependent on content being found by search engines in the same language as the language of the search query.
A French speaker, a German speaker, a Dutch speaker, a Spanish speaker, an Italian speaker or a Polish speaker is likely to conduct searches in French, German, Dutch, Spanish, Italian or Polish, respectively. This is particularly likely if they are looking for products or services available to buyers in a country where their native language is dominant, but they might conduct searches in their native languages out of habit or because they are more familiar with the relevant terminology in them, even when they are living and working in another country such as the UK.
There are also significant expatriate communities of native speakers of many other languages in the UK, and having a website that communicates fluently in their native language can give your business or organisation a significant advantage over the competition even if you only sell to those located in the UK.
If you sell internationally, then the advantages of multilingual functionality for your website should be more obvious. You may stand to significantly increase your market reach and therefore also your sales to foreign markets by presenting your website in their dominant languages.
2. Increased Trust & Credibility
For buyers in other countries, the decision to import goods or services from the UK is not one that is taken lightly. While an English-language website may be perfectly adequate for buyers in the Republic of Ireland or in the USA, Australia, New Zealand, India and most of Canada, because English is a major or the main language spoken in all these territories, it won't cut the mustard with those in countries where other languages dominate. If you want to gain the trust of buyers in France, Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Italy, Greece, Albania, Serbia, Kosovo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Slovenia, North Macedonia, Romania, Bulgaria, Germany, Austraia, Hungary, Czechia, Slovakia, Poland, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Ukraine, Russia, China, Japan, Malaysia, Thailand, South Korea, Turkey, Israel, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Chile, Ecuador, Peru, Honduras, or any number of other countries where English is not the dominant language, then you should think carefully about the value of investing in multilingual functionality to serve their needs.
By presenting your offerings in their language, you are symbolically reaching out to them in a welcoming manner, and showing willing to meet them half-way.
In addition to translating the content of your website to the languages of other countries where you plan to build up customers, you should think carefully about localising the content itself to each target market. Case studies for sales to customers in Bedminster, Taunton and Clevedon are unlikely to inspire nearly as much confidence in potential customers in Vilnius as ones for sales to customers in Lithuania, for example.
Bear in mind also that for each language into which your website is translated, there will tend to be a fixed translation cost attached to the job of professional translation. For instance, it probably does not make good business sense to translate your whole website into Hebrew if you are not going to be selling to enough Israeli customers over time to cover the cost of translation and turn in a trading profit.
3. Clear & Precise Communication
Even if customers in other territories have learnt English at school and speak a little English (as many do), the effectiveness of your English-language website may still be limited by their level of comprehension of its contents, especially where you are giving technical product or service information in industrial jargon, or discussing any specific point that requires the use of relatively complex and precise language.
Commissioning a professional translator who is a native speaker of the language spoken by part of your target market to translate your web content into their language can go a long way towards overcoming these limitations. Content clearly expressed in customers' native language should eliminate any otherwise likely doubt in their minds that they understand your offering correctly.
The localisation of messaging also plays into clear communication to native speakers of other languages. If you are selling to Polish people in Poland, for example, then you should ensure that the information you give is relevant to the prevailing customs and laws of Poland. An exact literal translation of advertising messaging originally aimed at the British market may be less effective than the conscientious customisation of messaging to the psychology and sociology of each target market.
4. International Traffic & Engagement
We have already demonstrated in point 1. above how presenting content in other languages is essential to bringing in views via search engines from speakers of those languages who enter search queries in them. So it will bring in more international traffic.
What's more, the international traffic that is brought in via searches in people's native languages is far more likely to engage with the content they find on your site than the same people would be if they only found content in English on your site.
If you are a shop, they are more likely to make purchases. If you are an international charity, they are more likely to donate or to share links to your donations pages. If your website features useful articles, they are more likely to be shared on social media by native speakers of the languages in which they appear.
Whatever the model for your income stream, the higher level of engagement brought about by instant familiarity with the language will tend to entail more shares and links to content in your site, which in turn will drive further traffic and business from speakers of the languages in which the pieces of content on your site that have attracted these shares appear.
5. Improved User Experience
Visitors navigating your site will feel more comfortable and welcome if they can do so in their native language. Users who have a positive experience with your brand are more likely to convert to paying customers.
A proviso to bear in mind here is that if only portions of your website are translated into visitors' native language, and they notice by comparing with the English-language version that large parts of content have not been translated at all, they may instead feel aggrieved that only a limited effort has been made to make the website accessible to them, and come to the conclusion that only an unsatisfactory, tokenistic effort has been made to port the website to their country.
The rule here is to ensure that when you take on the job of making your website available in another language, you cover all the important content and keep it up to date too so that it is apparent to speakers of that language that their needs continue to be supported by your business.
You should also be prepared for the possibility that you will be sent business enquiries in any and all languages your website has been translated into, so make sure that your translator or a competent translation agency is on standby to help you answer them if you cannot do so by yourself. There is no point in attracting contact form messages in Russian, Arabic or Mandarin Chinese if you can't make head or tail of any of these languages and are quick to write off such messages as spam. Be prepared to follow through on the business your multilingual website attracts. If your business or organisation is big enough to be selling to non-English-speaking customers, then your investment in it needs to be sufficient to serve their needs in their languages. One method large international companies are likely to use is to employ a dedicated representative customer services or sales agent for each export market they serve. If you do not have the sales volume to afford this resource, then at least you need to hire on an ad-hoc basis the services of a translation agency or interpreter to facilitate your communications with speakers of languages you support but cannot speak or read yourself.
6. Increased Conversion Rates
A properly serviced multilingual website that ticks all the right boxes in terms of localisation of messaging will lead to increased conversions from overseas customers as well as from expatriate customers in the UK who are native speakers of other languages. Without a multilingual website, you'll be lucky if more than a tiny fraction of your target market in foreign territories finds your website at all, and even if a few do find it, they are less likely to purchase from you than from comparable suppliers who offer the same information in their native language too.
Multilingual sites extend the international presence of your website and the reach of your product and service offering, increasing the likelihood that both people overseas and non-native speakers of English in the UK will visit your website, understand and engage with its contents, and ultimately become customers, donors, or collaborators - as appropriate, depending on the essential mission and purpose of the site.